Speech deterioration in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: a case study

J Speech Hear Res. 1991 Dec;34(6):1269-75. doi: 10.1044/jshr.3406.1269.


Few detailed reports have been published on the nature of speech and voice changes during the course of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The subject of this case study is a woman who was diagnosed as having ALS with bulbar signs at the age of 53. Speech intelligibility, pulmonary function, and selected speech and voice functions were tested during an approximately 2-year course of her disease. Over this period, her speech intelligibility, as measured by a multiple-choice word identification test, declined from 98% to 48%. Phonetic features that were most affected during the intelligibility decline included voicing contrast for syllable-initial and syllable-final consonants, place of articulation contrasts for lingual consonants, manner of articulation for lingual consonants, stop versus nasal manner of production, features related to the liquid consonants, and various features related to syllable shape. An acoustic measure, average slope of the second-formant frequency, declined in association with the intelligibility reduction and is thought to reflect the loss of lingual motoneurons. Her pulmonary function also declined over the observation interval, with particularly severe reduction in measures of air flow. Oral diadochokinesis and measures of vocal function (including jitter, shimmer, and signal-to-noise ratio) were highly variable across test sessions. These results are discussed in terms of the challenges they present to sensitive assessment of change and to management of the communication disability in ALS.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / complications
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / physiopathology*
  • Dysarthria / etiology
  • Dysarthria / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Middle Aged
  • Phonation / physiology
  • Phonetics*
  • Respiratory Mechanics
  • Speech Acoustics
  • Speech Intelligibility*
  • Time Factors